California School Shooting: Suspected gunman claims he targeted bullies, sheriff says

Dozens of heavily armed police officers swarmed Taft Union High School in central Calif., after a gunman opened fire in a classroom. At least one student was shot and flown to a hospital in nearby Bakersfield. Edward Lawrence reports.
At least 1 student shot in Calif. school shooting
Paramedics transported a student wounded during a shooting on Jan. 10, 2013 in Taft, Calif.
AP Photo, Taft Midway Driller/Doug Keeler

(CBS/AP) TAFT, Calif. - The 16-year-old boy who allegedly fired two rounds at students in a California high school on Thursday wounded a teenager he claimed had bullied him for more than a year, authorities said.

Students said the violence came just minutes after administrators at Taft Union High School announced new lockdown safety procedures prompted by the Newtown, Conn., school slayings.

"Just 10 minutes before it happened our teachers were giving us protocol because of what happened in Connecticut," said student Oscar Nuno. He said he was across campus when an announcer on the PA system said the school was under lock down "and it was not a drill."

The suspect surrendered his shotgun to teacher Ryan Heber and campus supervisor Kim Lee Fields after Heber coaxed the teen into giving up.

"I don't want to shoot you," he told the popular teacher.

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said the confrontation was enough of a distraction to give 28 students time to escape their classroom. Youngblood said the suspect's pockets were stuffed with more ammunition upon his surrender.

"This teacher and this counselor stood there face-to-face not knowing if he was going to shoot them," Youngblood said. "They probably expected the worst and hoped for the best, but they gave the students a chance to escape."

Heber's forehead was grazed by a stray pellet, but Youngblood said the teacher was unaware that he was hit.

"He's the nicest teacher I know," Nuno said. "He loves his students and he always wants to help."

The shooting shocked residents of this remote town of 9,400, about 120 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Authorities aren't releasing the name of the accused gunman because he's a juvenile.

Neighbor Trish Montes described the suspect as "a short guy" and "small" who was teased by many about his stature. Montes said her son had worked at the school and tutored the boy last year.

"All I ever heard about him was good things from my son," Montes said. "He wasn't Mr. Popularity, but he was a smart kid. It's a shame. My kid said he was like a genius."

The teen victim, who classmates said played football last year for the Taft Wildcats, was in critical but stable condition at a Kern County hospital on Thursday night. He was expected to undergo surgery on Friday.

Youngblood said the suspect felt bullied by the victim for more than a year, a claim the sheriff said was still being investigated.

The teen went home and plotted revenge against two students Wednesday night after finding a gun authorities believe belonged to the suspect's older brother, Youngblood said.

"He planned the event," Youngblood said. "Certainly he believed that the two people he targeted had bullied him, in his mind. Whether that occurred or not we don't know yet."

Youngblood said the suspect arrived after 9 a.m. and made his way to the second floor of the school's science building, where Heber was teaching a classroom of 28 students. The suspect walked in to the front of the classroom and shot his classmate.

When the shots were fired, Heber tried to get the more than two dozen students out a back door and engaged the shooter in conversation to distract him, Youngblood said.

"The heroics of these two people goes without saying. ... They could have just as easily ... tried to get out of the classroom and left students, and they didn't," the sheriff said. "They knew not to let him leave the classroom with that shotgun."

Youngblood said that the suspect would be charged with attempted murder. The District Attorney will decide whether he's charged as an adult.

Officials said there's usually an armed officer on campus, but the person wasn't there because he was snowed in.

Authorities said a female student was hospitalized with possible hearing damage because the shotgun was fired close to her ear, and another girl suffered minor injuries during the scramble to flee.

The school will be closed Friday as investigators continue to search the building. Authorities are "searching every backpack, every book," Youngblood said, to make sure the suspect acted alone.

Complete coverage of the California School Shooting on Crimesider